EMAILS SHOW CROSS WAS FRUSTRATED WITH CRITICS OF UW RESTRUCTURING PLAN

UW System President Ray Cross wrote to a UW Regent in October that he was “getting hammered” by shared governance leaders for his plan to merge two-year colleges with four year campuses, according to emails obtained by WisPolitics.com.

In the Oct. 11 email to UW System Regent Gerald Whitburn, Cross added that he received criticism “because they weren’t involved in the process” but “…had they been i[n]volved we wouldn’t be doing anything!!”

Cross wrote the email the day after news broke that he planned to propose merging UW’s 13 two-year campuses with nearby four-year universities to avoid closing them later on. The UW regents overwhelmingly approved the plan with two dissenting votes Nov. 9.

But Cross’ email, one of more than 150 pages of emails and text messages between May and October 2017 WisPolitics.com obtained, underscores the tension between UW System leadership and shared governance proponents who have complained the merger effort took place too quickly and without enough planning or analysis.

The emails were from Cross, UW Extension/UW Colleges Chancellor Cathy Sandeen and UW Regents President John Behling regarding the UW reorganization plan.

UW System spokesperson Stephanie Marquis defended Cross’ comment, saying it was made in relation to shared governance leaders calling for a longer term study as a prerequisite for approval of the UW restructuring.

Shared governance gives representation to academic staff, university staff, faculty and students, who have a part in making decisions concerning the UW-System.

In her response, Marquis stressed that shared governance leaders from faculty, academic staff, university staff and students all have a representative of their choice on the 25-member UW restructuring steering committee, which has met twice so far. The restructuring is effective July 1, although many details of the restructuring will not be resolved until after that date.

“We value the input of our faculty, staff and students, and President Cross has ensured they have a continued voice in the process,” Marquis said.

Meanwhile, Cross’ comment garnered mixed reaction from shared governance stakeholders, with some saying it reflects his top-down decision-making style and others claiming the private conversation diverges with Cross’ willingness to listen to stakeholders.

UW-Marathon County English Professor Holly Hassel, a faculty shared governance representative who sits on the UW restructuring steering committee, takes the former view.

“I’m completely and totally not surprised by that statement,” Hassel said. “I think most people in shared governance are aware of Cross’ attitude. The decisions he has made … suggest he is supportive of a hierarchical model, with a decision maker at the top.”

But others, including Sandeen of UW Colleges and UW Extension, say that despite their exclusion at the onset, shared governance leaders have plenty of involvement as they move forward.

“[The comment] really doesn’t upset me,” Sandeen said. “It’s more or less a private communication. I think there is a lot more faculty input going into the planning.”

UW-Madison English Professor Anja Wanner said she and her colleagues are committed to making the UW restructuring work. But she adds Cross’ comment clearly outlines his motives in not emphasizing shared governance leading up to the restructuring announcement.

“It seems that President Cross very explicitly expresses no confidence in shared governance in this particular matter, and that he actively wants to sideline shared governance groups, which I find deeply disheartening,” Wanner told WisPolitics. “It confirms our fears that there was a reason, a specific reason, for why we were not consulted.”

Still, Wanner noted that administration at UW-Madison has welcomed input about the restructuring from faculty, staff and students.

Hassel took issue with Cross ringing the alarm bells over Wisconsin’s declining population, noting such information was available for years prior to the restructuring announcement. Over the last seven years, UW Colleges experienced a 32 percent decline in enrollment of full-time equivalent students, and on some campuses — especially those in northern Wisconsin — the decline has been more than 50 percent.

Hassel supported a longer term study on the best restructuring approach that would take into account recruitment efforts for nontraditional students — a sizable chunk of UW Colleges’ 11,608 student body — as well as a closer study of the effects of budget cuts on enrollment levels.

Still, UW System’s Marquis says UW needed to move swiftly.

“The status quo is not sustainable, and the UW’s internal restructuring efforts leverage the strength of our four-year institutions to maintain and expand access to an affordable, quality education in Wisconsin,” she said.

UW-Stevens Point considering new trimester schedule, emails show

Emails between UW-Stevens Point Chancellor Bernie Patterson and UW System President Ray Cross indicate the school is considering a year-round trimester schedule.

In the Oct. 11 email, Chancellor Patterson wrote that the idea was related to a previous conversation “about our interest in other major changes/innovations/big ideas beyond the merging of the two-year campuses.”

Under the preliminary plan discussed in the email, UWSP would convert to a 12-month, trimester calendar that would allow three-year graduation. Currently, UW-Stevens Point operates under a traditional two-semester model with some classes available in the summer and winter terms.

UWSP Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Greg Summers in an interview with WisPolitics acknowledged that the university is considering a calendar change but is unable to pursue the idea currently due to managing UW System restructuring efforts. Summers said UWSP had floated the idea as a way for students to graduate ahead of schedule and allow UWSP to operate fully during the summer, a time when he said the campus is underutilized.

Summers said any plan would likely not involve a tuition reduction because required credits would stay the same.

Summers said around the time the UW System restructuring was announced, UWSP had requested funding from the System for a comprehensive market study to determine student interest in a new calendar. The cost for a study could be between $150,000 and $250,000, and Summers said the system declined the request due to its focus on restructuring.

One firm, the Middleton-based Huron Consulting Group, responded to the request for proposal.
Summers said he hopes to pursue funding for the market study down the road but doesn’t have a concrete timeline.

“I don’t think UW has shut the door, but they said they couldn’t do it at the time of restructuring,” he said.

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